Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioner, R.A.V. (Petitioner), is a juvenile accused of burning a cross in his neighbor’s yard. This was done in violation of a city ordinance that prohibits such action.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Prohibition of the use of fighting words must be uniform across all topics or else the law is an unconstitutional restriction of speech.
Where suppression of speech suggests an attempt to give one side of a debatable public question an advantage in expressing its views to the people, the First Amendment is plainly offended.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Is the ordinance substantially over broad and unconstitutionally content-based?
Held. Yes. The ordinance is unconstitutional on its face. It is a content-based ordinance that does not fall into an exception of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Justice Byron White (J. White): The ordinance is unconstitutional because it is overbroad.
Justice Harry Blackmun (J. Blackmun): The ordinance goes beyond regulating fighting words.
Discussion. The ordinance prohibits fighting words only as they apply to cases of racial, gender or religious harassment. Other fighting words that are directed at political affiliation or homosexuality are allowed. Because of this prohibition of speech in particular areas, while others are unrestricted, is why the ordinance is held unconstitutional.